With ‘normal’ news on hold at the moment, it’s to the past that we have to turn for ‘take your mind off the virus’ material. In that spirit, every weekend Spectator Life is bringing you doses of topical trivia – facts, figures and anecdotes inspired by the current week’s dates in history…
In 1958 the CND peace symbol was displayed in public for the first time. It is a combination of the semaphore signals for N (‘nuclear’) and D (‘disarmament’).
Peter Grant (born 1935). The Led Zeppelin manager was once paying for a hotel room that the band had trashed in Seattle. The manager said: ‘I’d love to be able to do that – just wreck a hotel room.’ Grant peeled off an extra wad of bills with the words: ‘Here, have one on me.’ The manager duly wrecked a room of his choice.
Anthony Fokker (born 1890), founder of the aircraft firm. Douglas Bader once gave a speech at a posh girls’ school about his experiences during World War II, and mentioned a particular battle. ‘My engine was on fire, I had two of the f***ers on my tail, one f***er was coming up at me from the left, there were two more f***ers about a hundred feet above me …’ The headmistress panicked and said: ‘As I’m sure you know, girls, there was a type of German plane during the war called the “Fokker”’. Bader replied: ‘I don’t know about that – all I can tell you is these chaps were flying Messerschmitts.’
In 1827, John Walker of Stockton-on-Tees sold the first match. He’d invented his ‘friction lights’ by mistake, when some chemicals from a pot dried on the end of the stick with which he was stirring them. When he tried to scrape them off, they burst into flames. His product was sold in boxes of 50, with a separate piece of sandpaper to light them.
Francis Ford Coppola (born 1939). His nephew is Nicolas Cage, who was born Nicolas Coppola. The actor changed his surname to avoid accusations of nepotism. (Literally – the word comes from ‘nepos’, the Latin for ‘nephew’.)
In 1908 H.H. Asquith became Prime Minister. He had to travel to Biarritz to be formally appointed by Edward VII, who was on holiday there. Asquith remains the only British Prime Minister to take office on foreign soil.
In 1992 the Conservatives won the general election under John Major. Their total number of votes (14,093,007) is still the highest ever received by one party in a UK general election. (Even Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide only saw Labour receiving 13,518,167 votes.)
Isambard Kingdom Brunel (born 1806). It’s said that the engineer aligned the Box Tunnel (between Bath and Chippenham on the Great Western mainline) so that the rising sun shines through it on his birthday.
In 1912, the Titanic set sail from Southampton. The ship’s rivets alone weighed a total of 1200 tons.